NZ PM: Kiwis on Christmas Island 'don't have to stay there'

NEW ZEALAND Prime Minister John Key has said Kiwis being detained on Christmas Island do not have to stay there as authorities regained control of the detention centre after rioting reportedly started by New Zealanders.

Mr Key has come under pressure over Australia's detention of New Zealand citizens. Australian laws introduced last year to crack down on foreign-born criminals gives Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton the power to deport anyone with a 12-month sentence who didn't have Australian citizenship, no matter how long they had lived in the country.

Mr Key said that his Government was not supportive of Australia sending New Zealanders to Christmas Island. "We don't like this policy. The whole way through we've said we don't like New Zealanders being sent there. We don't like what's happening," he said.

He said New Zealanders on the island can come back to the country. "You can come back to NZ and you can come back in a few days, if you have no issues, or potentially a few weeks. So people are electing to stay there," he said.

"Firstly, they may not have a passport because it may have been cancelled a while ago. Secondly, they may have mental health issues or a history of violence, we can't put them on a commercial plane."

New Zealanders on Christmas Island can return home to New Zealand, but were fighting the deportation orders, Mr Key said. "They are absolutely free to come on home on a plane, they don't need to be on Christmas Island and that can happen within days."

Mr Key said he did not have the details of what crimes the New Zealanders on Christmas Island had committed.

He said it wasn't true that some of the Kiwis detained had committed only minor crimes and he stood by his comments made in the House yesterday.

"A third of all of the people that actually are in the detention centres... that are New Zealanders, are either rapists, they're murderers, they're child sex offenders or they are responsible for a serious assault," he said.

Rubber bullets

Authorities said rioting at Christmas Island was over and that they had regained control of the detention centre. Riot police stormed the facility, apparently using tear gas and rubber bullets.

A statement from Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection says "the majority of detainees co-operated with service providers in restoring good order and control to the centre".

All detainees were accounted for and five were awaiting assessment by medical professionals for injury or illness.

"None of the matters are life-threatening. It is not known whether those injuries were sustained during the disturbance itself or during the resolution of the operation," the statement says.

There were reports of some detainees barricading themselves inside with petrol bombs, machetes and chainsaws after raiding a garden shed for weapons.

The unrest began in the early hours of Monday morning after upset detainees asked officials what happened to Kurdish refugee Fazel Chegeni, whose body was found on Sunday following his escape from the detention centre.

Media reports suggest New Zealanders were behind the uprising, which saw centre guards flee, fires burn and walls smashed.

The centre is run by controversial private prison operator Serco, which hit headlines in New Zealand this year after a series of scandals emerged at Mt Eden prison.

Two bus-loads of guard reinforcements were trucked to Christmas Island last night, patrolling the perimeter of the centre, as sirens sounded for hours on end.

 

 

RELATED: Sunshine Coast man gives live report during raid on Christmas Island

Live on Australian radio, one detainee described riot police smashing their way in. He said some detainees, including a couple of older ones in their 70s, were "freaking out" as officers arrived.

In the background fire alarms, commotion and shouting police were audible. "The tear gas is coming into the room now. I have just got a wet rag around my head."

'We are going to get hurt'

The detainee said those rioting were heavily armed and out of control. He worried about his safety as riot police kicked the door into the room he sheltered in. "We are going to get hurt."

He then described police dragging detainees with their hands behind their backs, before the phone line dropped out.

The immigration and border security department statement says the operation to re-gain control of the centre was "achieved largely through negotiation and co-operation".

"This strategy of peaceful negotiation and resolution has always been the clear objective of all involved in the operation.

"Some force was used with a core group of detainees who had built barricades and actively resisted attempts to secure compounds, including threatened use of weapons and improvised weapons."

The centre was now "calm" and detainees were secured in its undamaged areas. Meanwhile, authorities were sweeping the centre for weapons.

A full assessment of the damage is yet to be undertaken, but some common areas appeared to have suffered "severe" harm.

As the operation was underway, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was bombastic in his rhetoric.

"The government's not going to cower in the face of the activities of some of these criminals," he said in Canberra, blaming a "core group of criminals" for what happened.

Attempts to contact New Zealanders in the centre were unsuccessful tonight but yesterday a Kiwi detainee told NZME people being "treated like animals" sparked the riots.

The man, who NZME chose not to name, said the riots kicked off after one person was allegedly assaulted by a guard when they asked about the body.

"It was just a matter of time, all of us knew it. It was a matter of time because of the way they treat people ... They're meant to be so called welfare carers. Duty of care is their number-one policy and bringing service to us, but they treat us like dogs. We're treated like animals in here."

The man said there were fears authorities could return to the centre with guns.

- NZ Herald



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